May 21, 2020
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Why filling out your census form matters

Paul Sancya | AP
Paul Sancya | AP
This April 5, 2020, photo shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts that could help determine what political party is in power, what laws pass or fail and whether communities of color get a voice in their states.

As of the beginning of this week, just under half of Maine residents had completed their U.S. Census form. That’s one of the lowest response rates in the country.

Skipping the census can hurt you, your neighbor, your community and the state as the data collected in the once-every-10-year survey is used to allocate federal funding and political representation, among other uses.

The Census Bureau sent mailers to every household between March 12 and 20. Each mailing has a unique code that is entered on the bureau’s website. There, you will answer brief questions about each member of your household.

If you did not receive a mailer or have misplaced it, you can still fill out the questionnaire online or by phone. Go to my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 to get started.

Like many activities, census data collection work was interrupted by coronavirus and is now ramping back up.

Because census forms are only sent to physical addresses, those who get their mail through a P.O. box or other methods that don’t involve their physical address have so far been left out. But, beginning earlier this month, the Census Bureau has been hand delivering packages to these Mainers.

Maine has the second highest percentage of post office box users — 14 percent — in the northeast region. Jeff Behler, the director of the New York Office of the U.S. Census Bureau told the BDN in an interview. In Piscataquis County, 40 percent of residents are in this category. That’s likely one reason the county’s census response rate so far is just 27 percent. In Aroostook County, 20 percent of residents use P.O. boxes.

In an effort to count these residents, the Census Bureau began hand delivering packages on May 8 and will do so for four weeks. The packages contain a paper census form, with a postage-paid envelope, as well as the web address and toll-free phone numbers where residents can report their census information.

After this effort, the Census will begin sending workers to homes beginning in August to collect information in person, while adhering to physical distancing guidelines.

Census data, which is constitutionally mandated to be collected every 10 years, is used to determine many crucial things. For one, it determines the size and number of U.S. House districts in each state.

Ten states, including California, Rhode Island and West Virginia are projected to lose seats when House district maps are redrawn, a process that has been extended into next year because of the coronavirus disruption. Seven states are expected to gain, with Texas potentially adding three sets and Florida adding two.

Maine, for now, is expected to keep its two districts.

Census data is also used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars worth of federal resources. That’s why a full and accurate count is so important. That money goes to numerous education, health, nutrition, housing and other federally supported programs, including Head Start, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, highway planning, school lunches, food stamps, special education and others.

States, tribes and local governments also use census counts for their planning and programs.

The Americans who are most reliant on these programs are, unfortunately, also the most likely to skip filling out the census questionnaire.

For those concerned about their privacy, individual and household data cannot be shared. The bureau only releases aggregated information. The official census does not ask for your Social Security number, credit card information or political party affiliation. This year’s questionnaire does not ask about citizenship.

Because accurate census data is essential for many decisions that will impact your life, you should ensure that you are counted.

 


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